January 8, 2024 3 min read


Insights from Animal Studies Shed Light on Problem Gambling

Rising gambling harm rates worldwide have prompted psychology experts to look into the mechanisms of addiction, hoping their insights can help alleviate this pressing issue

As sports seasons heat up and championship games approach, the heightened excitement surrounding various events increases the likelihood of harmful gambling behaviors, especially among individuals susceptible to compulsive gambling. Studies on animal behavior reveal some valuable data that can be invaluable in developing more effective harm-prevention strategies.

Excitement from Risk Is Not Unique to Humans

Leading psychologist Dr Daniel Marston recently examined this contention topic for Psychology Today, highlighting how the legalization of gambling in many states has led to more prevalent problems among younger demographics. He referred to a recent study by Thomas R. Zentall from the Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky, comparing behavioral similarities between humans and animals. 

There is some very interesting information to obtain from animal studies for better understanding human gambling.

Dr Daniel Marston

Fascinating revelations have provided valuable parallels to understanding problematic gambling behaviors. Studies on rats and pigeons show that many would opt for riskier paths with the potential for higher rewards, even if they are significantly more uncertain, contrasting widely accepted theories. These animal studies show surprising similarities to problematic gambling in humans.

When isolated or in less stimulating environments, animals tended to engage more in high-risk behaviors, emphasizing the link between environmental context and gambling behavior. This ties in with the observed predisposition towards higher-risk options due to the allure of excitement, valuing the potential gain over potential losses. Such behaviors closely correlate to signs of addiction and may reveal new ways to help problem gambling victims.

The Data Can Help Refine Addiction Treatment and Prevention

One significant intervention for people struggling with addiction involves increasing positive and engaging activities tailored to individuals’ interests and excitement levels. Encouraging mindfulness and emphasizing focus on the present moment has proven beneficial, redirecting attention from the mere pursuit of excitement to an awareness of behavior and its consequences.

As a therapist who has worked for years with people who have gambling problems, I have seen these types of interventions help.

Dr Daniel Marston

These findings could be invaluable to charities like the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), the USA’s leading organization dedicated to reducing gambling harm by raising awareness and aiding affected individuals. The NCPG recently also drew attention to the country’s rising youth gambling rates, highlighting how teens and young adults could be more susceptible to addiction.

Understanding how compulsive behaviors work across species can further refine existing strategies for aiding individuals struggling with gambling addiction. It may be especially beneficial to younger people, whose brains are still developing, by providing them with more positive and stimulating experiences. While this approach will not eliminate gambling harm, it is a vital tool to help protect vulnerable groups.

Deyan is an experienced writer, analyst, and seeker of forbidden lore. He has approximate knowledge about many things, which he is always willing to apply when researching and preparing his articles. With a degree in Copy-editing and Proofreading, Deyan is able to ensure that his work writing for GamblingNews is always up to scratch.

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